The most recent residents of an old and much repaired bird box on our fence at home is a family of great tits who provide hours of entertainment for us and for our rather forlorn looking cat; the latter entertains dreams of the birds somewhat more vivid than the odds of him catching them would suggest.
Whilst I was checking the nearby pear tree last night, the male tit shot out at high speed past me in a state of terror, his wings brushing my face, and he himself careening into the fence opposite with a little thud. He then caught himself, and flew on into the evening thunderstorm.
Later he returned, hurtling along in great swoops from the sycamore tree opposite our kitchen window, his previous troubles presumably forgotten (I hope so, at least, as the idea of garden birds with long memories is a little scary) en route to his clutch of four very squeaky chicks.
The box has been unoccupied for some years, and may now be in use because of the diminished agility and adventurous spirit of our ginger tom who sits on the fence post above the box or at the foot of the pear tree, but can’t get the balance/reach/posture/energy to make a play for the box contents.
Either way, both the birds and the cat are part of a full and enjoyable garden ecology where all are welcome (occasional hedgehogs and rats, too, invite themselves and make themselves welcome) and add to the sense of peace that surrounds the house of an evening. I am strongly conscious of God’s care for all of these animals firstly as part of my job as the garden steward and secondly as the gift of God to me as a co-dweller with them in the space we call our home.
In my talk to the MK Theology Forum Monday night I talked about one of the pools of our growing understanding is that of stewardship and servanthood. These are powerful doctrines underpinning the care we take in the way we treat each other and the natural world. Slugs and snails challenge me in this regard, and I wish they would rather find food in the wilder parts of my garden.
If I had had the chance to develop this stewardship and servanthood theme more deeply, something like this might have emerged:
As part of the outward manifestation of our discipleship, the biblical record urges our commitment towards relational, communal, economic and ecological health as responsible stewards and servants of our families, communities and schools. This underpins the Mosaic Law, the Psalms (e.g. Ps 104), the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 11) and the economic concept of Jubilee. For Christians in the New Testament, our discipleship moves towards becoming complete in Christ, and to contribute to the restoration the vision of health presented at the creation – ecological, relational and communal. For those of us identifying as Christians, we do this through the spiritual disciplines: we “put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature” (Colossians 3) and “clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…over all these virtues put on love, which binds them together in perfect unity”. This leads over time to relational health and thus contributes to both the witness of the church but also the flourishing of the school community. God’s desire for communities to live in harmony and mutual submission can be seen as part of the pedagogic task that teachers are charged with – we help create the framework within which peaceable, servant-hearted relationships can flourish. Wendell Berry writes that “a community identifies itself by an understood mutuality of interests. But it lives and acts by the common virtues of trust, goodwill, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, and forgiveness.” In schools which have accepted this communal imperative (Trevor Cooling refers to it as covenant community) there will be far-reaching implications in how we think of ourselves as creative beings (reflecting God’s image in us); in how we treat our school grounds, buildings and facilities as stewards of creation; in our sense of place and the local needs of our communities in the early years of the 21st century where we are “placed”; and in paying strong attention to our lives as a community that wants to live in harmony with each other.
I was in conversation with the principal of a multi-academy trust earlier yesterday and she made the point that it is no longer essential that MATs need be locally-centred – that it would and should make no difference. Except, of course, to the children and families who comprise the community. If we see this wider “garden ecology” as being responsive to both the human community and to the demands of the place, then it matters very much that groupings of schools are as local as possible.